The Nashville Meeting: A Discussion of Issues Which Have Divided Brethren

By Steve Wolfgang

About a year ago, Alan Cloyd (editor of the Restoration Leadership Quarterly produced by the Vultee church in Nashville) made an announcement in that journal regarding a proposed discussion among brethren “divided over institutions and the cooperation question.” He reported at that time that a discussion was tentatively planned for March, 1988, in Louisville, KY. A few months later, that same journal announced that Herman Alexander of the Preston Road Center for Christian Education in Dallas, and myself, had agreed to make arrangements for brethren of both persuasions to discuss these issues. In the January 7, 1988 issue of the Guardian of Truth, I published an article “On Meeting With Institutional Brethren,” explaining my involvement in this endeavor, and seeking to Meeting inform brethren generally about this proposal. Obviously, March 1988 has come and gone and no meeting has yet occurred. Such a meeting is still in the active planning stage, but since several things have changed since the last published reports, I am sending this article explaining the current status of this endeavor to several journals of circulated among brethren. The editors of those journals may publish it or decline to do so as they see fit. This report will probably be more informative if my January 7 article referred to above is read first.

While several others have had positive input into the process of formalizing the details, they have left me free to make whatever arrangements seemed best. Thus, should someone not be pleased with the plans I describe below, I am the one to be criticized. Although there are things which perhaps could be better arranged, I have done the best I could. Some brethren from both sides of this issue have been outspoken and critical, often before they knew enough to be critical about, and sometimes before most of the arrangements had been made! I hasten to add that many more brethren of both persuasions, while expressing cautious optimism toward such a meeting, have been decidedly favorable toward such a discussion of issues which have divided. I want to say personally that I appreciate the willingness of brethren, whatever position they may hold on any issue, to come together and discuss our differences. I have been preaching more than twenty years, and this is the first time that anyone from “the other side” has reached out to ask, “Can we talk?”

Plans have now been made for three days of discussion in Nashville, Tennessee, on December 1, 2, & 3, 1988. In order to provide a “neutral setting,” the facilities of the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Nashville have been procured. This is a quality, business/convention – type hotel in downtown Nashville, and will be able to provide comfortable facilities for those who are coming from out-of-town. These dates will allow us to obtain a flat rate of $45 per room per night, with a maximum of 4 persons per room. (Thus, two people staying in the same room would pay $22.50 each per night; four persons per room would pay $11.25 each; all prices subject to tax, of course.) Occupying these rooms will also give us access to a large meeting room which can be arranged with theater style seating with a capacity of 480 seats which should be adequate for such a meeting.

Just as each one attending will bear his own expense, so each one comes representing only himself. This is not an attempt to formulate doctrine, issue some edict, or establish some “brotherhood position.” Although only a certain number of brethren (about 21 from each persuasion) will be actively participating as speakers, respondents, or moderators, “whosoever will may come” to attend these meetings, to listen to what is said, and to question those who speak. The topics to be discussed will include the following. I am listing also the brethren who have agreed as of this date to serve as moderators (M), speakers (S), and respondents (R). (See below for a description of responsibilities of each of these tasks.)

I am also affixing tentative times for each session (note the stress on the word tentative in the arrangement of these and other details).

Thursday, December 1, 2-5 p.m.

Suggested Topics: Are there “patterns” revealed in the Scriptures? etc. How Do We Establish/Ascertain Divine Authority? What is the role of Examples? of Inferences/Conclusions?

S: Clinton Hamilton

R: James W. Adams

M: Dale Smelser

Thursday, December 1, 7-10

“Overview and Current Situtation” – History; How Churches of Christ Separated and Grew Apart; The Current Situation; etc.

S. Steve Wolfgang

R: Marshall Patton

M: Colly Caldwell

Friday, December 2, 9-12 a.m.

“Collective (Church) Activity and Individual Activity” – What are the Biblical Criteria for Distinguishing the Two? etc.

S: Ferrell Jenkins

R: Harold Comer

M: Karl Diestelkamp

Friday, December 2, 2-5 p.m.

“What Is the Work of the Church?” – Discussion will likely include fellowship halls, church kitchen/recreational facilities, and larger issues of “social gospelism,” family life centers, etc.

S: Paul Earnhart

R: Robert Jackson

M: L.A. Stauffer

Friday, December 2, 7-10 p.m.

“What Relationship Should Institutions Sustain to Churches?” – Discussion including orphanages, colleges, etc.

S: Mike Willis

R: Larry Hafley

M: Dick Blackford

Saturday, December 3, 8-11 a.m.

“Cooperation of Churches” – Definition: What is Cooperation? How May Churches Cooperate? When and under what circumstances?

S: Ron Halbrook

R: Keith Sharp

M: Dan King

Saturday, December 3, 12-3 p.m.

“The Question of Fellowship” – What does the Bible mean by “fellowship”? What kind of unity can exist between separated brethren? On what basis?

S: Harry Pickup, Jr.

R: John Clark

M: Jamie Sloan

Two speakers, one from each persuasion, will prepare in advance and present “main speeches” on each given topic, approximately 30 minutes in length. The respondents will be free to reply as they see fit, each one speaking only for himself. These diresponses” will be allocated about 20 minutes. I realize that everyone will want more time than we can possibly allocate, but I believe that with care and precision, everyone can cover the main points of what has divided the churches over these issues.

Moderators will not only introduce speakers and respondents, but will fulfill an important function as a “questioner” of the speaker and respondent of the opposite persuasion. At some point (probably after the two main speeches and two responses), written questions will be collected from the audience. It will be the responsibility of the moderator/questioner’to select from the written questions submitted the dozen or so which best focus the issue under discussion. Several brethren of the institutional persuasion are at work assembling a slate of speakers, respondents, and moderators from that perspective, but due to various hindrances and circumstarics these have not been finalized at this date. Thus, I do not yet know who will be the speakers, respondents, and moderators from the other side, but felt it important to share what information I do have with brethren to forestall any further misinformation about the meeting. I plan to publish another report on the progress of these meetings as soon as-those names are available to me.

Some brethren have expressed misgivings about this meeting. Some may think there has been enough discussion of these topics in the past. Many would see further discussion of these issues as futile; others, as irrelevant. In many ways, I can understand such feelings. Perhaps further discussion of divisive issues will do nothing to change anything. But I cannot help but feel that dispassionate discourse among alienated Christians must be attempted whenever the opportunity exists. New generations have arisen on either side of these issues who know nothing whatsoever of why brethren have disagreed and divided over them. I do not know exactly what may result from such a meeting, but I am willing to put forth the effort necessary to attempt to talk to others, whether or not they may ultimately agree with my understanding. I am glad to learn that there are others of like mind.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 14, pp. 432-433
July 21, 1988